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How to Brilliantly Brainstorm a Topic

Help your young writer plant the seed and watch a top-notch paper grow.

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Critical Thinking
Decision Making

A big assignment can be overwhelming for tweens: organizing time, following through from research to writing, and even picking a topic may all be new activities. It's important for your child to master these skills, but you can offer cheerleading and advice throughout the process — while still allowing her to work independently. Here is an overview of the process, so you can coach your child if she gets bogged down on one of the steps.

Manage Time
You know how good it can feel to check something off your to-do list? Your child knows that feeling too. But that doesn't mean that skipping straight to writing the paper is a good strategy; before she dives in, make sure she considers her topic choice carefully. Have her spend a day, or even several days if it's a longer assignment. She can also set up a schedule of the work involved in the project overall, so she doesn't fall behind.

Choosing a Topic
You can discuss potential topics together, during everyday activities like making lunch, driving him home from afterschool activities, or while folding laundry. Encourage him to choose a topic that he finds interesting, since he will be spending a significant amount of time learning, thinking, and writing on it.

Does he love sailing? Maybe World War II watercraft is a good topic for him. Is he tantalized by other cultures? Perhaps he can compare traditional foods from two different countries.

It's hard for any writer, young or old, to face a blank page. Encourage your child to give these brainstorming techniques a try to spark ideas:

  • Brainstorm without editing. Have your child write a list of every idea—without crossing off a single one. He can even use a timer! When he's done, have him read over the list to see if there are any gems hiding in there.
  • Flip through class notes or textbooks. Let your child look for topics that made him curious to know more. This is a chance to investigate further.
  • Suggest a visit to the library. Have kids go to the school or local library, or even a favorite bookstore, and browse the shelves. Being around books can get your child's good ideas flowing. Have him flip through newspapers and magazines too. Being open to ideas makes it more likely that a good one will jump out.
  • Have him talk to family and friends. Suggest interviewing his grandparents to discuss the historical events they lived through. Remind your child that while books, articles, and the Web are the obvious places to find out information, the people around him are another potential resource.

Once your child has chosen a topic, talk together to make sure it's Goldilocks-like: ensure that the topic is neither overly specific nor overly broad. You might recommend that your child take a look at the assignment at this stage: if the assignment is to write about a person or an event, that's a broad topic. Your child's topic should not be "JFK," but rather, something more specific, such as "JFK's civil rights record" or "JFK's assassination."

When it comes to writing a paper, your child should be aware that what is left out is just as important as the topic that he is covering. Help him figure out the specific areas that should be covered in the assignment — and which fall outside of the paper's scope.

Evaluate Resources
Once your child has determined a creative topic idea, it's time for a small reality check. It may be an interesting topic, but are there resources to support it? Now is the ideal time for a visit to the library, where librarians can steer her toward resources, such as books and back issues of periodicals. If she uses the Web as a source, remind her to look at more than just the first site that pops up.

Talk to kids about sources: she should use a mix of secondary sources, which show another person's interpretation or viewpoint, and primary sources, which are original records from the time being studied, such as letters people wrote, old maps, and audio recordings from the time. Your child can find these items in a museum, photographed on the Web, in a great aunt's attic, or by talking with relatives. This mix of sources makes research more powerful, and allows your child to form her own opinion, while also getting the benefits of experts' informed viewpoints.

Check, and Double-Check the Assignment
Make sure your child reads the assignment at every step: during brainstorming, research, and writing. In fact, he may even want to run his topic by the teacher, who can potentially provide suggestions on how to make the assignment even stronger. You can ask your child to share the assignment with you as well.

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